Fr. Whats-His-Name

Have you ever had the honor to have someone pass your path and then walk along with you for a while? Well kathy and I had just this honor when Fr. Frank Liistro came into our life one evening about a week before Christmas many years ago.

We were working at a factory building on the 4th floor that we had begged from a college classmate of mine for the Christmas Giving Program. All of the volunteers had left, it was about 7:30 in the evening and I heard someone desperately gasping for breath near the stairwell. I went over to him and asked, “You going to make it?” As he straightened up, still gasping he said to me, “Oh, yes, but boy those stairs are a killer!” It was then I noticed he was wearing a Roman collar. “Oh father, are you all right?” all the while thinking those stairs, all eight flights, are really a killer.

“Hello, I am Father and we had these gifts come back to the parish late and I wanted them to get to the children they were bought for.” It was then that I noticed that he had carried up four large bags of beautifully wrapped presents. “Well thank you very much.” I was saying when he interrupted me asking, “So where did all these gifts come from?” He started walking up and down the long rows with gifts stacked on numbered plastic trash bags, each one for a child. He was smiling and waving his arms and pointing to this pile of gifts and that pile asking, although not really expecting me to answer him, “Who bought all these gifts? This is a tremendous thing that you are doing. Where is all your help? As he said this he stopped and look directly at me and asked,You do have help, don’t you?” I smiled back at him and answered, “I have lots of help. I could not do this program without all of the help I get. We talked for a time as I explained the ministry of the Refugee Apostolate to him. Finally he said, “It is getting late and I have to get back to the parish.” We said good night and we shook hands. He wave good bye as he descended into the stairwell.

This was the first time I met Fr. Frank over the next twenty years Kathy and I would cross paths with Fr. Frank and whenever this happened we would always say, ” What an amazing priest.”

One of the funniest stories happened to Kathy. One day Fr. Frank appeared in the doorway of the Little Store when it was on Main Street in Worcester. “Hi,Kathy Could you use some fresh fish in the store?” Needless to say Kathy was somewhat taken aback because we usually don’t get asked so she thought a moment and said “Yes, I think we can.” “Good, he said, because I have over twenty-five pounds of fish left over fish from our Friday fish fry at the parish.” “Great,” said Kathy can I help you carry it in? “No, he said, ” I can get it.” When he brought it in he gave Kathy a wink and said,”Do you want to hear why I brought this fish to you?” Kathy nodded. “Well. for a while I have had the suspicion that the the folks who run our fish fry have been over ordering the amount of fish needed every Friday. So today I swooped in and gathered up all of the left over fish and announced that I needed to get it to some friends whom could really use this.” “you should have seen their faces,” he said. For the next four Fridays Fr. Frank dropped off 25+ pounds of haddock for us to pass out in the store. Our customers just loved it. Where else could they get fresh fish for $0.50 a pound!

As the years rolled by we  would interact with Fr. Frank in our Christmas Giving Program.
His parish did 250 gifts every year. It was he who introduced us to the Guild of St. Francis who have since supported our ministry with time and money ever since. We prayed for him when he needed a kidney and in his final days with us.  We miss him mightily, especially that broad smile, the twinkle in his eye and that Liistro wit! May he now rest in the peace of the Lord.

 

It’s About Time, Your Time!

Let’s face it. Every nonprofit organization, especially those whose mission involves helping the poor, needs to raise money. It would probably astound you if you actually counted the number of requests for funds that arrive in your mailbox – or inbox – every month. The Urban Missionaries are no different. As you are aware, we call or write our supporters several times a year asking their financial support.  There is, however, another big need we face each day – the need for volunteers.

We are a small group. On an average day, Kathy, Sue, and Walter run our 6,000 square foot store. They work with customers, straighten the merchandise, receive donations of clothing and small appliances, sweep the floors, and try to stay sane during the summer’s heat and humidity. There are also several great volunteers. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Bob, a small, wiry, retiree, assists Walter with furniture pick-ups and deliveries, as well as making small repairs throughout the building. Each day, a small group of women and men takes turns visiting local supermarkets, picking up donations of bread and pastries, which we sell at extremely low prices to our customers. (Where else can you buy a loaf of crisply crusted cheddar cheese bread for 40 cents?!)

During the school year, you can often find volunteers from Assumption College and the Mass College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences doing internships at the store. During the summer, we are frequently gifted with groups of high school students working with Young Neighbors in Action, a Christian social action organization which sends students on week-long sojourns to the inner city, where they labor with groups such as ours to get a small taste of what it’s like to work with the poor.

Even with all this help, though, there’s always more to do than we have people to do it, and that’s why we turn to you for help.  Some of you might think you don’t have enough time to help us out. In reality, we have volunteers who work one Saturday morning a month – twelve times a year. A neighborhood friend comes in two hours a week. Some folks come only on summer Saturday mornings to help set up our weekly yard sale. No amount of time is too small. If your CCD class, Girl or Boy Scout troop, or community group (Knights of Columbus, Rotary, etc.) has a service project as part of its criteria, we have large-scale activities for you, too!  While some of you have specialized talents, we demand no exotic skills to work here. What we do is not glamorous.  We sort clothes in the back room, hang new merchandise in the front store, organize our constantly overflowing boxes of sheets, pillowcases, and towels, and get dirty. We also make friends. Sue, who works the register four days a week, speaks four languages – English, French, Spanish, and Arabic! We can’t count the number of people for whom English is not their primary language who ask for her by name because they can communicate with her so easily. The smiles on peoples’ faces when they spot a piece of furniture or an appliance they both like and can afford (a formal dining room set for four for $80.00 anyone?) really do light up the room.

There is space for you here. There are jobs and there are people you’ll like. There are friends to be made. Maybe there’s a world you’ve never seen. Peter Maurin, the French Catholic social philosopher, said that one of our jobs is to help make a world where it’s “easier to do good.” That’s what we try to make happen at the Little Store. Finding us is easy. Our new (and, hopefully, final!) location is at 242 Canterbury Street in Worcester (on the corner of Canterbury and Cambridge Streets). We have well-lit off street parking for over 150 cars, and we’re open from 9AM to 4PM Monday through Saturday. (Sundays belong to Someone Else!) If you’d like to get an idea of what we do, call Kathy or Walter Doyle [(508) 831-7455] and set aside some time to come see us. We’ll both be happy you did!!

Urban Missionaries Coming to a TV Near You!

The Urban Missionaries of Our Lady of Hope will be featured on the Hank Stolz Experience on Charter TV3. You can see the interview on Monday  night  (tonight) at 8:30 and again on Tuesday 8/6 at 6am and at noon. Walter and Kathy Doyle will be interviewed about the Urban Missionaries by Hank Stolz and the segment will last approximately 8-10 minutes. In the photo below, Walter Doyle: all dressed up with somewhere to go…TV!

Walter Doyle: All dressed up with somewhere to go...
Walter Doyle: All dressed up with somewhere to go…

 

Flea Market in the Heat

It was HOT today for the weekly flea market, but we rallied! We met many new friends as they discovered the flea market and the Little Store for the first time today. Once inside the Little Store, many were amazed at the inventory of the recently opened Just New Store, where never-used (new!) items are sold at greatly reduced prices. Despite the heat, there is always time for a little fun:

Mr. Holiday!
Mr. Holiday!
IMG_3416
Caliente!

Young Neighbors Rock!

We have been lucky this week to have the Young Neighbors in Action from the St. Rose of Lima parish in Northborough helping us out . Today they were working on striping the parking lot in the 90 degree heat. Their chaperones, Kevin O’Connell and Kaitlyn Murray, are making sure they are drinking lots of water. Nice job, Young Neighbors! We thank you!

 

Young neighbors resting after working in the heat...
Young neighbors resting after working in the heat…

 

Young Neighbors at lunch
Young Neighbors at lunch

 

Young Neighbors striping the parking lot...
Young Neighbors striping the parking lot…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ken in Kabul II

Afghanistan

 

On Monday of this week I heard the reporter announcing that there had been a terrorist attack in Kabul at the Center for anti-terrorist something or other. My heart just about stopped because I knew Ken was staying Kabul, but I was not sure how close he was living too the bomb site. My first reaction was to say a Hail Mary for him and everyone near the bomb site. After a bit I calmed down and was able to put it out of my mind. Then came Ken’s email and I started all over again!!  Here is his account of the events in Kabul.

 

Kabul (1/21/2013) — Early this morning, as many Afghans were setting out for work, the Taliban struck near our apartment. From what we have been able to gather, through the radio and from a friend living near the site of the attack, a suicide bomber and three gunmen began their mission in the predawn darkness around 5:30 am. The bomber blew out the main doors to the Center, the armed men following close in their wake, firing their guns as they came. We are not yet aware of any deaths or injuries. Two of the Afghan Peace Volunteers heard the explosion. A woman from the neighborhood who, along with her daughter, has been severely traumatized by war, also came to inform us of the explosion.

 

The young men living here were quick to discuss the attack. Faiz, whose friend sells potatoes from a cart and lives near the Center, said, “I cannot trust my life to the future.” No matter how hard they study, what plans they make for their tomorrows, a single shot, just one explosion, could shatter their dreams forever.

The Taliban has two motives for attacks such as this. The first, and perhaps not the primary reason, is to inflict death, injuries, and destruction. The second is to make the neighborhood live in fear. And it does. When a person is afraid for his life and the lives of his children, he hunkers down and shows a low profile, hoping to stay out of the line of fire. He does not protest; he does not speak out. He just wants to survive.

 

The afternoon, we will all discuss the attack. Our apartment has no armed guard, as many do, and our doors do not lock. My initial impression is that the young men desire to stay. My commitment to living with the Volunteers is unwavering; the only thing that will alter these plans is if the young men feel my presence might bring them a greater chance of being hurt. Should they feel this, I will move to another location for a while

.

Pat Driscoll and Kathy and Walter Doyle, speak constantly of ours being a work of faith. I have faith that there is a better day dawning for Afghanistan and that fear will never drive us out. For this we should pray; for this we should work.

 

Love to all,

 

Ken

 

It is hard to imagine just what Ken is seeing as real. It is so far from my everyday lives that I find it very difficult to believe that people, just like you and I are living in these conditions and the “world” seems to just hum along as if there was nothing wrong. Why aren’t in the streets protesting the treatment of these people who have been hijacked by evil? Have we gone to sleep? Have we become so hard hearted that we no long are able to feel the slightest twinge of compassion? We do need to speak out. We do need to pray for Afghanistan that the Lord will bless it with peace and justice.

Ken in Kabul

I received this email from Ken Ricardi who is a friend and fellow Urban Missionary of Our Lady of Hope, on January 11, 2013. Needless to say it was with great joy and interest that I read his letter. We had said good-bye to Ken on January 3rd after our weekly prayer and staff meeting here at Our Lady of Hope Center. We had said a prayer for Ken’s safety and success for his time in Afghanistan because he would be leaving on Sunday, January 5th.

 

I have included his complete email here for you to read. My hope is that it will inform, entertain and stretch your world experience as it has mine.

 

Dear Relatives, Friends and Hangers-On,

 

I’m sorry I’ve not as yet written to say hello, but our apartment is quite a distance from a site where internet is available.

I arrived in Kabul extremely safely and soundly on Tuesday (January 8th) morning. The temperature was about average for this time of year (19 F). The sky was completely overcast, resulting in a visible film of pollution caused by auto emissions, burning firewood, and coal. Additionally, some of the poor who can’t afford wood have taken to burning scraps of plastic, which brings on health concerns and an addition to the pollution. The weather has warmed up these past days, so that the many dirt streets, heretofore ruts of frozen dirt, have become seas of mud. Walking is incredibly messy.

I’ve been doing work with the rest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV). On Wednesday, we climbed one of Kabul’s steep mountains, covered with mud homes, in search of very poor families. To each family we gave a paper stamped with the “Blue Scarf’ of the APV. We took their phone number (Everyone has a cell, since land lines are virtually nonexistent.) and the number of people in each family. (Each of the families we met, numbering from six to thirteen members, lived in one-room apartments.) On Thursday evening, one of the young men in the group called each family and ask them to send a representative to our local mosque today, Friday, the Holy Day. We gave each family a home-made duvet made by the seamstresses working at the Duvet Project, for each family member. Today alone we gave away away 262 duvets! Each duvet costs the seamstresses – funded by the APV – roughly $20.00 to produce. So today we gave away roughly $5240.00 worth of duvets. The seamstresses, who are paid by the APV and who hope to segue this venture into a self-sustaining business, and the Duvet Project are funded completely through donations to the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

On a more practical level, I wash dishes, sweep floors, and carry firewood for the two stoves with everyone else. Yesterday we scrubbed mold off of our bedroom ceiling. Our apartment is a second-storey walk-up containing a kitchen and three bedrooms, which double as a dining room, meeting rooms, and classrooms for our two English classes and a workspace for the seamstresses. There are 14 people living here.

I do hope each of you has had a good start to the new  year. Best Always,

 

Ken

 

Your comments are welcome, please email me at mailbox@urbanmissionaries.com